February 2012 Volume 9

How Leighton Spencer met Howard Aris

Noel Spencer
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Leighton Spencer began his track career at Don Bosco Prep School in New Jersey. He is the  son of KCOBA (USA) past president Hon. Noel Spencer-former Orange County, NY Legislator, and Dr. Patricia Miller-Spencer (KTHS).

Don Bosco is renown in the USA for its Football team, but has a local NJ following for Cross Country (XC) and Track and Field.

Leighton joined the XC and track team in the winter of 2006 as a freshman at Don Bosco. At the end of spring track 2007, he had the second fastest time over 3200 meters for Bergen County, NJ (10 minutes 32 secs). At the beginning of his track career –I would say he was noted as a competitor with a lot of spirit and hard working, but not fast.

When the XC season began in 2007, Leighton began to exhibit some exceptional times over 5000 meters for a sophomore. The KC Times began to report on his winning achievements and his promotion from JV to Varsity within the same season. He became the important 5th man for the Varsity team which won the NJ Non Public School's Championship that year.

Hamlin Pagon, the middle distance coach for KC and the JAAA administration, now enters the picture and began to send inquiries to the US for the possibility of the young man running for the youth team in Jamaica. There was always a scheduling conflict between the NJ meets and the Jamaica trials. However, Hamlin kept inquiring and kept up to date through DyeStat.com (the US high school XC and track and field webpage).

Although Hamlin kept his inquiry going, Leighton's enthusiasm was for his local high school team.  His interest in Jamaica was still in the embryoic stage.

Hamlin would observe Leighton run at Penn Relays each year and marveled at his posture as a young runner. He would lament how he would love Leighton to come to Jamaica.

Meeting Howard Aris:
Leighton's grand parents (Egbert Spencer- Customs, and Gwen Omphroy-Spencer, OD- former Matron of Victoria Jubilee) were visiting the NY/NJ area and needed a chaperone to escort them on their return trip to Jamaica. Leighton who was now enrolled at Columbia University became the perfect candidate.

The trip occurred during the winter recess from Columbia University and the same time as the Douglas Forrest Invitational at the National Stadium. How convenient said his father who immediately contacted Brian Smith-Director of the meet and Hamlin Pagon.

Hamlin organized for Leighton to meet with Mr. Aris at the JAAA headquarters, and they journeyed to Kingston College the same day in order to meet the Fortis crew.

Noel called the JAAA and was able to speak to Mr. Aris who said right away, "come on over" to the new headquarters building near the Stadium.

Mike McCook, Leighton, and I travelled to the JAAA. Mrs. Tavares and Mr. Aris met us at the front door of the building because it was still under construction.

Howard greeted Leighton very warmly, and began to relate his observations of Leighton's achievements (Google Leighton Spencer, runner - http://strausnews.com/articles/2011/10/21/sports/ny/misc/7.txt). Leighton was amazed at his repertoire of knowledge on his different races. Howard gave all of us a tour of the new building showcasing the conference room, the sports library, and the sleeping accommodations for out of town athletes before a trip overseas. He showed us the executive offices and the offices for staff, and the storage room for gears.

The meeting lasted approximately 45 minutes, which included the tour and what lies ahead as the future for Jamaica Long Distance. Howard handed Leighton as copy of the JAAA annual report –which spelled out the long term goals for long distance running in Jamaica and for Jamaicans.

As we were getting ready to leave – the Kenyan long distance coach arrived for a meeting with Howard. Howard immediately introduced Leighton to the coach. Howard was so personable and low keyed; he made my son feel at home as if he was living in Jamaica all his life.

On the day of the Douglas Forrest meet, Mr. Aris was not able to watch the 5000 meter race which was won by Leighton, but he arrived at the stadium with Teddy McCook and Mrs. Tavares, plus other members of the JAAA. Howard came over to Leighton, inquired about the race, and both he and Teddy spent a good ten minutes stating their dual goals for developing world-class long distance runners for the island. As a fact, this is one of the midrange goals of the JAAA stated Teddy and Howard together.

Leighton returned to the US, the next day, and within 18 months from that January 2010 visit, he was selected to represent Jamaica at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico. All who were involved in the journey knew that the persons mentioned above have played a major role in advancing the Long Distance running program in Jamaica and the selection of Leighton to the Jamaica squad.

Howard Aris was ultimately the decision maker on the selection, for that my son is eternally grateful because Leighton was recovering from a stress fracture to his femur and was not 100% ready for an international race. Howard was aware of this.  However, he said the program starts with Leighton Spencer our future runner for Jamaica.

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